1) A change in style can fire Dundee to promotion
The first half at Central Park between Cowdenbeath and Dundee typified the visitors’ toilsome season so far. Dundee were unimaginative and allowed their weaker opponents to become equal adversaries throughout. And yet, for all their disappointing play, they managed to keep their heads just above water. Craig Beattie’s astonishing 35-yard strike on 36 minutes exemplified the outstanding talent within John Brown’s squad – an extra level of quality that Cowden, or many of the division’s other sides, cannot boast.
After the interval, however, Dundee mauled their hosts, and Cowden changed from formidable competitors to cowering school children. The Dees were fortunate not to score three or four more goals before Ryan Conroy’s late clincher. Whatever caused Brown to deviate from the first half’s kick-and-rush strategy he so stubbornly clutched to his bosom, he should use his half-time “Eureka!” moment to inspire his side’s promotion charge.
That isn’t to say Brown suddenly embraced tiki-taka. Dundee were still direct – the difference was their play had a purpose. Instead of aimless punts forward and Gary Irvine’s wayward diagonal balls, their approach became more measured and utilised the energy of Conroy, Nicky Riley and Jim McAlister with greater frequency.
No player benefitted from the change in style than Beattie. The former Scotland international is an undoubted talent in the Championship and his strength, vision and technique make him the potential standout in every match. Instead of contesting for aerial balls, he welcomed passes into his feet and was able to hold off defenders before feeding one of the midfield trio as they made their runs from deep.
Expecting a drastic ideological change from Brown would be futile, but if the manager is able to subtly adapt his approach to suit the strengths of his squad or the idiosyncrasies of each particular match, then Dundee can re-establish themselves as legitimate promotion contenders once again. CF
2) Dumbarton are a poorer side without Hugh Murray
It says a lot about Dumbarton’s recent progress that the discussion in the immediate aftermath of their 2-4 home defeat to Raith Rovers was focused on the team’s frustratingly inconsistent form. After all, as recently as 2008, the club finished in eighth place of the Third Division – Dumbarton’s elevation through the leagues and their swift upturn under Ian Murray last season is one of Scottish football’s most recent success stories. However, one might argue that last season’s problems were not adequately addressed over the summer.
Dumbarton have accumulated more points this season on the road than at home – indeed, last term they won nine matches on their travels compared to four games at the Bet Butler Stadium. Furthermore, their defensive issues have not been fully resolved and the team have already conceded 17 league goals.
However, looking beyond the statistics, it would suggest that Ian Murray has striven to fix the defensive concerns and may have actually succeeded, albeit with a player who has frequent problems with injury and suspension.
After the 1-4 defeat to Hamilton Academical, the signings of Colin Nish and Hugh Murray were met with a mixed reception from the Dumbarton support. Nish’s scoring record throughout his career has been decidedly average, while Murray was occasionally in and, more often than not, out of Partick Thistle’s starting XI last season (the midfielder was last used by Alan Archibald in February’s 2-2 draw with Greenock Morton, where he collected his third red card of the campaign). Although both players have performed to a high standard, it increasingly looks as though Murray will be the more vital to Dumbarton’s cause this term.
Essentially, Murray operates in the same role as Hamilton’s player-manager Alex Neil, breaking down opposition attacks and indulging in the uglier side of the game. His team are poorer in his absence – Mitch Megginson is capable at pushing forward to support a lone striker, Scott Agnew is adept at both creating and scoring chances, and Chris Turner is, on occasion, a standout, but without Murray’s willingness to harry and hinder the opposition, the talented midfield has a soft centre.
Saturday’s defeat was a perfect case in point. With Murray unavailable through injury, the Dumbarton manager paired strikers Bryan Prunty with Garry Fleming in attack but the system failed to flourish and Rovers took a three-goal lead after 61 minutes. Late defensive lapses allowed the Sons back into the game, but on numerous occasions the Rovers midfield was allowed time on the ball, a luxury that the Dumbarton midfield were ill-equipped to stop.
The performance will have left Ian Murray hoping his namesake’s ankle injury does not preclude his participation for too much longer but at 34, the former St Mirren anchorman will presumably take longer to recover from knocks and niggles. Keeping him fit (and extending his loan agreement beyond January) could be the difference between Dumbarton securing a comfortable mid-table finish or scrapping out a nervy fight to stay in the division. SM
3) The winter looks bleak for Allan Moore
Following Saturday’s 0-2 loss at home to Alloa Athletic, Greenock Morton find themselves behind Cowdenbeath at the bottom of the table and three points adrift of eighth place. With another match to follow before the first set of nine fixtures is complete, it is still too early for Morton supporters to panic about relegation, but it certainly doesn’t look good.
The Ton are averaging a goal difference of -1 per match, which reflects the lack of firepower at Moore’s disposal more than it does defensive deficiencies. Having only found on average a goal per game in the league this season, it is difficult to see where Morton can reliably score from. Peter MacDonald’s four league goals for Dundee thus far could have been the difference between Morton currently sitting at the bottom of the league and possibly being comfortably mid-table. A hotshot striker, however, would simply disguise a deeper-lying problem.
Perhaps Moore’s biggest loss is Michael Tidser – his presence, creativity and signature left-foot snapshot has not been replaced. Saturday’s midfield double-pivot of Fouad Bachirou and Michal Habai at the heart of a 4-2-3-1 might, in theory, provide a solid defensive platform to attack from, but having two similar players means a reliance on four players in front of them to create everything for themselves.
Morton’s lack of creativity is exacerbated by recent injuries to attacking midfielders Reece Hands and Joe McKee. Of the trio played behind Archie Campbell on Saturday in Alloa’s win, Stephen Stirling began his first game in almost a year; Aiden Fulton is just 19 and was making only the second start of his first team career; and that left too much creative responsibility upon Dougie Imrie. When McKee, Hands and Stirling are sharp after a run of matches in the first team again, Morton will surely become a more balanced and decisive team going forward. However, with an imminent home match against Hamilton Academical followed by a tone-setting fixture away to Cowdenbeath, Moore might need to find a winning formula sooner than that.
Dumbarton only accumulated two points at this stage last season and confounded everyone with a surge to mid-table by the end of the campaign – Morton have the resources and capability of repeating or even bettering that. For Dumbarton, it took a controversial but ultimately rewarding change in manager as a catalyst, but will Morton chairman Douglas Rae be tempted to imagine the same? JAM
4) Brechin City are failing to live up to expectation
Saturday was a good day for League 1’s bottom three teams, but a bad day for Brechin City. Falling 1-3 at Airdrieonians, Ray McKinnon’s side extended their winless run to five games, passing up a fine chance to usurp Ayr United in fourth place in the process. Furthermore, the point collected Somerset Park a fortnight ago is their only return from six league games on the road this season.
Following three consecutive draws, the weekend’s jaunt to the Excelsior Stadium appeared to be an ideal opportunity for City to return to a winning habit – there is an air of discontent at Airdrie, with Diamonds fans fully expecting defeat (such is the current dissatisfaction with manager Jimmy Boyle). However, some uncomplicated football and goals from Martin Hardie, Liam Coogans and Lewis Coult earned the ‘Onians only their second home win in 13 months.
Brechin are failing to live up to pre-season expectations, with much attention falling upon the balance of their side. Last season, their offensive quartet of Andy Jackson, Alan Trouten, Derek Carcary and David McKenna was a key factor in their success – fluid and dynamic in attack, yet hard-working and tenacious without the ball. This term, the same approach is proving to be their undoing, with little of the same discipline and industry. Ryan Donnelly and Bobby Barr have replaced the departed McKenna and the sidelined Carcary, but neither player lived up to their (increasingly diminishing) reputations. Donnelly, in particular, has cut an uninterested and disheartening figure.
Sitting behind the dysfunctional quadrumvirate, the midfield pairing of Allan Walker and Stuart Anderson have struggled. Against Airdrie, Brechin had the majority of possession but were unable to break down a team content to sit deep, contain, and clear their lines. For all of Brechin’s attacking options, the cohesion of last year is missing.
This season, Brechin have the same number of wins as they did at this stage last term – the point at which Jim Weir was relieved of his post. While the current team is incontrovertibly better, Ray McKinnon must now prove the assertion that he is among the best managers in the division. AG
5) Jamie Longworth is finding his feet once again at Stranraer
Stranraer’s victory over Arbroath was a crucial result for Steve Aitken’s side. With Airdrieonians and Forfar Athletic both winning, and East Fife collecting a point from their match with Stenhousemuir, it was imperative that the Blues took something from the weekend’s fixture to keep pace with their immediate rivals.
To run out an old cliché, it was a game of two halves (both of which were sullied by referee Euan Norris and a catalogue of bizarre and inconsistent decisions). Before the interval, Stranraer played with irresistible panache and enjoyed a three-goal advantage through a Martin Grehan brace and Jamie Longworth. Throughout the second half, however, the Blues sat deep and invited Arbroath pressure – they almost succumbed after Lee Erwin struck on the hour mark and Alan Cook added a late penalty – but ultimately secured the win. The three points have taken Stranraer’s total to eight and lifted them into seventh place.
Grehan will inevitably the subject of gushing praise after the big striker turned in a sublime performance, but Longworth’s display was equally as vital in securing his side’s victory. Longworth, a PE teacher, joined the SFL in the summer of 2010 after moving to Queen’s Park from Kilbirnie Ladeside. An attack-minded midfielder, Longworth impressed in his first two seasons at Hampden, scoring a total of 32 goals (his tally of 20 in 2011-12 was a superb return, with his canny knack of scoring against Clyde earning him the nickname “Clyde Killer”).
Yet, for whatever reason, Longworth was unable to carry his outstanding form into 2012-13. Despite scoring six goals before the end of September, his performances declined badly. Marginalised by the emerging Lawrence Shankland and shunted between the midfield and the forward line before dropping out of the side, the player was completely drained of confidence and offered little. At his worst, he was unable to perform the very basics – even controlling simple ten yard passes seemed beyond him. A parting of ways in the summer was inevitable and the best for both parties.
Longworth has taken time to establish himself at Stranraer, finding himself in and out of the team, but his positive displays – he has four goals in 11 games so far – should see him eventually preferred to David McKenna in the starting XI. Along with Grehan and Marc Corcoran, he will play a crucial role in ensuring his team maintain their third tier status for a third consecutive season. CGT